There have been a billion successful horror anthologies on television that enjoyed long, successful runs: 'Tales From The Crypt,' 'The Twilight Zone,' 'Tales From The Darkside,' 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents' and others. There have been far fewer scary television shows that were able to stretch a long, sustained story over the course of an entire season. 'American Horror Story: The Complete First Season' attempts to beat the odds.
Seeking a fresh start after a miscarriage and bit of infidelity, Ben (Dylan McDermott), Vivien (Connie Britton) and daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) Harmon move from Boston to Los Angeles. They find a great deal on a mansion that seems too good to be true. It comes out that the previous owners died in a murder/suicide.
Constance (Jessica Lange), their next door neighbor, makes herself known to the Harmons and frequently drops by, along with her daughter Addie (Jamie Brewer) who seems to connect with some of the 'other' residents of the house.
Oh yeah, the house is populated with ghosts who appear and disappear at will. These are all of the people who have died on the property over the years. The big rule is: once you die in or around the house, your ghost/spirit/whatever, is confined to the property except on Halloween. Some of these ghosts seem to be mostly harmless while others are absolutely dangerous.
Will the Harmon family survive the malevolent spirits that share their residence? Will their fractured marriage survive? Will people ever realize that a house being sold that far under market value has a serious problem?
It's insane to think that this came from Brad Falchuck and Ryan Murphy, the two guys responsible for 'Glee.' This is as far from that world as one could probably imagine. It makes a little more sense when you think back to their other major project, 'Nip/Tuck.' The tone is a bit closer to that.
Yes there are quite a few spooky moments and a bunch of surprises but along with the horror, there is an overwhelming sense of sadness throughout the season. A number of these beings are dead/horrible monsters through no fault of their own. Many of them were deceived by people they trusted and most were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Imagine an eternity of boredom/loneliness, trapped in a house with the very ghost that murdered you. Awkward.
After seeing a few episodes, you'll probably be able to figure out a few of the twists and surprises that are coming. That's alright because there are a few doozies that will likely knock your socks off. It's also curious that one of the ghost characters has aged since death while everyone else is suspended in time. Most of the house's rules are consistent and obeyed, but some minor stuff seems to get a little fuzzy. Also fuzzy is how one character seems to be at the center of so much death but has been able to avoid prosecution for so long.
If we are going to keep nitpicking, the series (and story) finale wraps things up, but it felt as though it didn't need to be longer than the other episodes. A few extra scenes/exchanges probably could have been cut out to say the same thing. The sudden re-emergence of a few extremely peripheral characters to perform a violent task seemed to be a cheap way to wrap up a loose end. That particular conflict really deserved something a little more poignant and thoughtful. It does leave a slightly sour taste in one's mouth rather than being ironic.
Jessica Lange has earned a few major awards for her performance and her character probably is the most complex one here. Let's just say she has a legitimate interest in what goes on in the Murder House. The other heralded supporting character is Larry Harvey (Denis O'Hare). He is a severely burned man who keeps warning Ben to get his family out of the house. As his actions become more intense, we find out his significance. The Harmons are the center of the story, but the supporting characters really steal the show, here.
There are so many important figures that haven't been mentioned in this review. Just watch it and discover for yourself.
Special features include: a guided tour of the Murder House, the making of the show, the creation of the title sequence, meeting the ghosts of the house, and commentary.
'American Horror Story: The Complete First Season' is a very clever, scary show that has a lot going for it. The show is smart enough to acknowledge and obey just the right number of haunted house cliches while having something original to say.
What we are left with is an excitement to see what kind of horrific story the second season will bring us.
Add an extra half star to this review.
Not Rated 533 minutes 2012